Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
The audiences at Sundance are hardened and sophisticated, but when the South Korean film "The Isle" played there in 2001, there were gasps and walk-outs. People covered their eyes, peeked out, and slammed their palms back again. I report that because I want you to know: This is the most gruesome and quease-inducing film you are likely to have seen. You may not even want to read the descriptions in this review. Yet it is also beautiful, angry and sad, with a curious sick poetry, as if the Marquis de Sade had gone in for pastel landscapes.
The film involves a lake where fishermen rent tiny cottages, each on its own raft, and bob with the waves as they catch and cook their dinners. It is the ultimate getaway. Once they have been delivered to their rafts by Hee-Jin, a woman who lives in a shack on the bank and operates a motorboat, they depend on her for all of their supplies, and for the return to shore. She also sometimes brings them prostitutes, or services them herself.
Hee-Jin (Jung Suh) does not speak throughout the film, and is thought to be a mute, until she utters one piercing scream. She is like the heroine of "Woman of the Dunes," ruling a domain in which men, once lured, can be kept captive. Most of the time she simply operates her business, ferrying the fishermen back and forth to their floating retreats. The men treat Hee-Jin and the prostitutes with brutality and contempt, even making them dive into the water to get their payments; that these women are willing to work in this way is a measure of their desperation.
Hee-Jin is indifferent to most of the men, but becomes interested in Hyun-Shik (Yoo-Suk Kim). Because we share his nightmares, we know that he was a policeman, killed his girlfriend, and has come to the floating hut to hide and perhaps to die. Watching him one day, she sees that he is about to commit suicide, and interrupts his chain of thought with sudden violence, swimming under his raft and stabbing him through the slats of the floor. They develop what on this lake passes for a relationship, but then he tries suicide again (you might want to stop reading now) by swallowing a line knotted with fishhooks and pulling it up again. This leads to a sex scene I will not describe here, and later to an equally painful sequence involving Hee-Jin's use of fishhooks.